I got poked on Thursday. The best kind of poke you can get during a pandemic. I got the vaccine. According to the stack of papers they handed me before said poke, I received the Pfizer. In a weird sort of doomsday kismet, both my husband and eldest child were able to get their shots the day prior. They received Pfizer and Moderna, respectively.
Not that the manufacturer really matters, as far as I can tell. It just seems to be the question that gets asked a lot these days. Which one did you get? The one shot or the two? Which two shot? Then come the wait time and side effect comparisons.
I know there’s a lot of frustration, as each state is handling this differently. Some states are opening their vaccine eligibility to all their residents. While other states seem to be stuck in Phase whatever they’ve been in for this whole time.
I wrestled a lot about whether it was ethical for me to put myself in my state’s current vaccine eligibility group, which included people with serious illnesses like cancer. My cancer technically isn’t cancer, as it doesn’t metastasize. When my state announced it would be opening up vaccine eligibility to all of its residents above the age of 16 a week later, I decided it was ok for me to not split hairs on the matter and I made the appointment.
I was nervous in the days leading up to that appointment. I couldn’t really put my finger on why. I’m not needle phobic. I get stuck regularly for IVs and bloodwork. And I’m really excited about the prospect of doing whatever it takes to put this pandemic behind us. Then it hit me. Being fully vaccinated is one giant leap that brings me closer to starting chemo.
Since I’ve learned of my latest recurrence, back in the summer of 2020, I’ve been in a holding pattern waiting for all the cues my body can give me to let me know it’s time to start treatment again. My body has been screaming lately. It’s time. But I’m all too aware of how much more vulnerable to this new virus I will become on chemo. So I’ll wait until I’m poked again.
I was healthy before all this. Diagnosed with this strange rare disease at the age of 39, I’d never known what it was like to be in daily pain, to be physically compromised. I lived in the type of obliviousness I can only laugh at now. A blissful ignorance so many of you know.
To be medically vulnerable in the time of a pandemic has been a sort of slow torture. Trying not to be consumed by the creeping anxiety is a level of exhaustion I’ve never experienced before. Every time I look at myself in the visor mirror before entering the grocery store, I feel I’ve aged ten years more. Surgical mask first, then cloth mask. Pinch at the nose. Big sigh. Let’s go.
I fell recently, at one of these many trips to the store. My leg just gave out. That’s another sign that it’s time, after feeling the obviously bigger tumors in my leg, after the increasing pain. My leg is becoming unstable. It’s unsure. I’ve become increasingly nervous navigating inclines and stairs.
The shot that I was so nervous about getting is nearly the last goal post I’ve set up for myself to know when it’s time. I’m almost there and it’s scary. It’s scary because this time I know what I’m getting myself into. It’s not my first rodeo. I can see my future in all the memories I’ve saved from years ago. The hair loss, the nausea, the pain, the brain fog that will steal my words.
The shot that made me so nervous is also a gift, a promise of safety in a time when I will need it so badly. I got the shot for me, of course. But I also got the shot for all of you. I got it for my son, who is currently too young to receive it. I got it for those who are unable to for various reasons. I got the shot for all the people who are currently more vulnerable than I will eventually be.
After my second shot I’ll get my ducks in a row. I’ll cut my hair that hasn’t seen shears in more than a year, most likely a funky pixie cut to hide the impending hair loss. Then I’ll get the scan that will tell us how big these beasts have gotten. My leg will hopefully let me get in a hike or two before the side effects take hold. And the rest will be history.
I can’t say I’m not afraid to start chemo again. In the end, I know I’ll get through it. I’ve done it before and, due to the nature of this disease, I will most likely have to do it again eventually. With every new poke, though, I feel a little more safe. Every day I’m less afraid. Each new shot makes this next step in my life a little less daunting. I can start to focus on being well instead of possibly becoming a statistic.
So, just in case you were wondering, that’s what you getting the covid vaccine means to me.